by Bret Amundson
Is Minnesota the only state seeing a decline in deer numbers?
The short answer is no.
North Dakota saw it’s fewest deer licenses offered since 1980. Only 48,000 hunters were able to take to the prairie in search of whitetail while carrying a rifle, 11,500 fewer than last year. Wisconsin saw changes to it’s regulations to counteract a decline in deer numbers. What is the cause?
A perfect storm of severe weather, predators and liberal bag limits have been to blame.
Politics aside, here is how our Wisconsin hunt went this year:
Each year my family gathers in northwest Wisconsin at a couple of cabins to celebrate Thanksgiving and take part in the annual gun deer season. The traditional season takes place over the 9 days around the holiday, from Saturday prior to the Sunday after.
Our group of 9 hunters or so bagged 23 deer over the last two years (2012, 2013)-two of our best years ever. We didn’t shoot big bucks, but we’re not necessarily after trophies. Sure we’d like to include more management strategies to help grow bigger bucks, but there are those of us within the group that count on having multiple deer in the freezer each year.
The area we hunt is contained within the central farmland zone. Much like the southern part of Minnesota, it hasn’t been affected by the weather and predation as much as the northern parts. For years we’ve been offered a bonus antlerless tag in addition to our buck tag-no lottery or earn-a-buck programs needed. Additional bonus antlerless tags were offered for minimal amounts. Our group would happily take does to put in the freezer in addition to helping manage the herd.
Since we are literally on the northern edge of the central zone, our area was affected by the tough winters, the abundance of black bear and the spread of wolves. This year our group came home with only 7 deer, but was our season that much worse than previous years?
The highlights began on opening morning. The day started with gunshots in every direction, a welcome surprise as we figured shooting would be down. Soon a spike buck wandered by my stand and was given a pass to grow for a few more years. Later a big doe would come down the same path from the other direction. The particular path was behind me, so I had to stand up, climb down a rung on the ladder stand and turn around. A tactic I wouldn’t recommend to other hunters. But it was a necessity in this case and soon the mature doe was in the truck headed to the registration station. On the way there, I’d spot a nice buck standing on the side of the road. I slowed down, passed him, turned around and stopped 30 yards away.
He just stood there!
How come you can make the tiniest of noises in the woods and spook every deer in a 3-mile vicinity, but pull up next to one in the car and they’ll ask you for the weather report.
I took several pictures before continuing my trip to register my deer. While at the station, the owner had a slightly frazzled look on his face and proceeded to tell us that he was much busier registering deer than he thought he would be. Maybe this year wouldn’t be so bad after all?
The author mounted a Tactacam camera on his scope and compiled the week’s footage into the video above. The still shots in the video come from a Nikon D3. *Warning footage includes harvesting of whitetail deer.
The year before we shot almost all our deer on opening weekend. We didn’t even SEE deer the rest of the week in our woods. This year however we saw deer everyday.
I had invited Mandy Uhrich to the land of cheese after she had an unsuccessful start to her Minnesota season. After a long, cold sit in the woods when it was -23 (strike 1) we headed to some public land to walk and try to find new deer to chase. Unfortunately, we saw no fresh tracks, lots of other hunters and no deer. (Strike 2).
I was about to pack it in for the day as a warm fire and dry clothes were calling my name, but with about 45 minutes left in the day, I decided to meet up with the other guys in our group and try our 80 acres of private land one more time. We had a permanent stand with a sunflower heater inside, so I figured at least we’d stay warm.
“We’ll give it a half hour,” I said while looking at my watch. Technically that would take us out of the woods about 15 minutes early, but I honestly wasn’t too optimistic and we were pretty worn out from the walk earlier. As the 30 minute mark passed, I thought to myself, “We’re already out here, we might as well finish the night.” Cell phones had come out, guns were propped in the corner and discussions of the next day had begun. That’s when I caught movement from the right. It was the bottom of the 9th with 2 outs and those 2 strikes against us.
The permanent stand we were in had windows on 3 sides. All the windows were frozen shut, except the one in front that opened a paltry 4 inches. The movement from the right turned out to be a nice doe at 15 yards coming from the direction that didn’t have a window. I furiously slapped Mandy on the arm and pointed at the deer. I noticed an ear flicker behind the doe and motioned that there were now two deer. She picked up her .50 caliber muzzleloader and slowly tried to point it out the window, but the big sunflower heater that was providing us with so much comfort was now burning her blaze orange jacket.
“TURN THAT HEATER OFF!” Mandy said as loudly in a hushed tone as possible. Her clothes would have been singed if I hadn’t. The doe had already been suspicious of the stand and our activity soon had it looking right at us. I thought we were busted.
Mandy poked the barrel through the 4-inch opening as the deer turned and started to walk away. She quickly aimed the open sights and let the big gun bark. That doe never knew what hit her. She dropped where she stood and soon we were fist bumping in the stand.
The shot spooked the other deer and it began to run straight out from us. A third deer had been lagging behind and took off in the same direction. We both looked at each other and talked about how the other two deer could come back. I quietly grabbed my rifle and watched the nearby ridge for any sign of movement. Sure enough, within a couple of minutes the two deer were back, following another trail that ran parallel to the one they were on previously. I clicked on the Tactacam that I had mounted on my scope and watched for 5 minutes as the bigger of the two stood behind a tree. Finally it began walking before resting behind a different tree, still not offering a shot.
As soon as it moved, I let the Federal .30-06 bullet spin out from the Remington 700…and just like that Mandy and I had doubled! That’s why it’s called hunting: A long day of seeing nothing can turn around in an instant.
We brought the two deer to the registration station and the owner’s tune had changed slightly. While the opener was busy, the rest of the week was as quiet as the Metrodome after a Packers touchdown. What will that mean for the seasons to come? Who knows, but my guess is that Wisconsin will see fewer tags available again next year as well. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy venison steaks for months to come.
For those interested in offering input, here is more info from the Wisconsin DNR.
Ours didn’t go as well. We hunted both the southern farmland zone around Madison opening weekend, and the closer up in the northern forest zone. No deer down by home, in spite of being able to shoot does. Only does to be seen up north. Deer camp was skunked for the first time in 5 years. We’re looking forward to beginning the work of managing the land up there. It needs it.
I guess I should add that we heard much, much less shooting as well. Opening morning, I heard 5 shots, all from far away. The rest of the weekend, I heard maybe 10 all together, still from far off. And from Wednesday to Sunday, maybe another 5 shots that were hunters and not just people playing Rambo on Thanksgiving.